Just An Illusion

Image: NPR

Image: NPR

Illusion: a thing that is or is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses also known as something we fell for all the time when we were kids. Whether it be the disappearing coin, card tricks, or unmoving pictures that look as if they are moving. Illusions are often things we fall for not only in some silly magic trick but in reality as well, for instance, a part of the past that is believed to be history but is the reality of a situation still. An illusion is a perception of mind in which the answer may be in front of someone the whole time but often gone unnoticed due to distraction, the same applies for a discriminating continuity in history whether it be blatant or covered up with another name or slightly altered policy. Just as illusions get us to believe otherwise as does the system of ability grouping which is in reality de-facto segregation. Britannica writes: Since the 1960s ability grouping has often functioned as a de-facto form of racial segregation, separating white students from their African American peers and other minorities, who often suffered from academic deficiencies as a result of poverty and discrimination. With ability grouping stemming from segregation, it’s harms are implemented on minorities and it leads to both short term and long term impacts on a student’s life starting from the beginning of their education.

With the turn of the century, much has changed but not the problem of unequal opportunity for minorities due to the past mentality of segregation still being intact.  The Brookings Institute writes that the problem in the twenty-first century is that the color line still exists. Americans often leave the problem unnoticed and think that the vestiges of discrimination are over but in reality, the consequences of discrimination are still faced today for those who experience it first hand. The Atlantic writes on the topic of modern day segregation in which it shows that racial separation is seen within the placement of students in gifted and talented groups, advanced placement courses, and other upper-level classes. Fields states after the underrepresentation of his daughter that:  “Now we arrive at the point where you can literally walk down a hallway in Columbia High School and look in a classroom and know whether it’s an upper-level class or a lower-level class based on the racial composition of the classroom” , he furthers, “You see kids entering the building through the same door,But the second door they enter is racially stratified.”On a further note in an interview with Quartz the board of education president: Beth Daugherty admitted that a racial disparity in the district of South Orange Maplewood existed. Within these two situations, statistics show proof: that within an upper-level math course at South Orange Maplewood in the eighth grade only 11.6% of the students participating were African American whereas 73.2% were white. Comparatively, when looking to AP enrollment at Columbia high school after acceptance the numbers varied drastically with 69.8% vs. 18.7 %. In order to be accepted into upper-level classes and advanced placement a recommendation from a teacher is needed, with being a minority there is less of a chance to receive the recommendation into the program. In an article written by Sarah Garland it states: In 1975, the school system in Louisville had launched the district-wide “Advance Program,” just as the desegregation plan went into effect. Before, all Louisville schools were required to have a mix of African American and white students so that the number of black students never fell below or rose above a certain cutoff. There was a variation between 20 to 40 percent.  In the Advance Program, however, the rules didn’t apply because classroom assignments within schools were exempt. The percentage of African American students in the gifted program was 11 percent. When the system was placed in during this process of “desegregation,” rather than solving the problem for racial separation in education, it just was given a new facade carrying on with the issue but illusioned to be different when no variation existed. By being presented with less of an opportunity than others goes to show even with a new century the same issue still exists under a different name and system.


Through the process in which the tracking system is implemented and executed, causes harm like creating a prison pipeline mentality. The mentality is created in the classroom. In lower level classrooms of minorities, combined with zero tolerance policies can mean that students are pushed out of the classroom and are much more likely to be introduced into the criminal justice system. African-American students, for instance, are 3.5 times more likely than their white classmates to be suspended or expelled, according to a nationwide study by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. The civil rights office currently has 40 similar cases under investigation that show these wrongful accusations of students in racially diverse districts that serve student populations ranging from 7,000 to more than 60,000. Secondly, this process of mentality starts as early as elementary curriculum and this inequality shapes incarceration in the US through the prison pipeline system, targeting minorities. These disparities manifest themselves as early as preschool. Not only does it create the mentality but it also leads to wrong implications when it comes to arrests. Throughout history, it is shown that there are disproportionate imprisonment rates for minority racial groups. De facto segregation stems a play into ability grouping and then further goes on to a wrongful accusation. With tracks being placed within education the United States it eventually leads to exacerbating patterns of crime and imprisonment.  


When looking at segregation still serving as an underlying layer to today’s education system when America seems to think the problem is solved, the idea of it still existing is often questioned with: Why does segregation in education exist still if the process of desegregation has taken place? And if the issue is so bad it would’ve been addressed already. The broad answer to it is: the problem has been looked at, but it has not been solved instead there is a continuity in institutions being subtly racist or stereotyping people into a certain group of learning. But when looking to the actual causation one must look to the fact that this grouping is not a resolution to a problem of ability but a form of racism. Which is the result, is a reason for the urgency to look to a solution to the problem.

When seeking a solution one thing that needs to be understood is that yes, although it is true that racism is a problem that cannot be fully solved, there is hope to reduce its presence within the education system. It is clear that in America today that simply planning is not enough and action needs to be taken and this can be done in multiple ways. First, a prevalent example shows that: The New Jersey school district, South Orange Maplewood, has been trying to correct its segregation problems, by removing tracking from nearly all classes in elementary and middle school. And in order to desegregate education options even more: to standardize the system for testing into AP classes. The district requires all sophomores to take the AP English qualifying exam. Instead of making the classrooms based on students being separated by a coherently flawed and subtly racist system, the system of testing helps to identify innate talent and allows classrooms to be based upon the actuality of the situation. The first step in the right direction is to look to a system that hopes to remove the racist ideas in ability grouping and to eventually moves towards removing it from education altogether.

Ability grouping is yet another illusion of a necessity within the education system just as segregation was and still is.  Evidence shows that we clearly need to do more and rather than living with the illusion of a just education system post-segregation one must realize the situation is just masked, one must realize that the world we live in is one in which a line between people exists, and the end goal is to combat it for equality.